“Inside the Belly”
There used to be a series of WWII tactical espionage videogames called Commandos. In that game, each member of your elite team of commandos are specialists in some form of combat or subterfuge, much like Hijikata’s band of criminals in Golden Kamuy. It even had a spy character, much in the vein of the recently deceased Suzukawa, who can disguise himself as Nazi officers and give commands to grunts. This was, obviously, extremely powerful and any mission where the spy was available usually revolved around his use, and with many restrictions on his skills. As is necessary; the ability to impersonate whomever is a much too potent and versatile without limits, even arbitrary ones. This is why Suzukawa had to die, or had to at least be neutered in some way. Accounting for him in a story every time a conflict came up would be tricky and time consuming. It doesn’t help that fraud-based solutions he provides are binary; either it works, and an obstacle is tricked out of existence, or the mark isn’t fooled and everything ends in utter failure. So it’s either way too useful or frustratingly useless, so from a storytelling perspective it’s easier if he just wasn’t there.
Not that the plan to rescue Shiraishi ever had a very high chance of success. So many things could have gone wrong at any time and everything did. Sure, we got Shiraishi back but we had to trade the master conman (and his part of the treasure map) for him and it’s debatable whether that’s ‘Worth’. But everybody knew that it was going to be a risky operation before they started. And that Shiraishi would probably break himself out at some point or another. Yet, Sugimoto still wanted to go after him. It is revealed this week that Shiraishi had been passing fakes to Hijikata’s crew and hadn’t actually ‘betrayed’ Sugimoto, but did he actually do that out of faith in Sugimoto, or was he just playing every side? Considering his guilty conscience, I would wager he was motivated more by greed than loyalty. And what if Shiraishi had been passing the genuine goods to Hijikata? Even though if it was for the sake of self-preservation? Would that ameliorate Sugimoto’s wrath, or does treachery draw no distinctions?
Such is the struggle for Sugimoto’s soul. He’s ‘Immortal’ first and foremost because he is ruthless. He doesn’t enjoy killing, but when pressed to survive he doesn’t hesitate to shoot a deer. And he admits to be quick to dehumanise his enemies so that he may kill them easier, and when met with a traitor I get the feeling he’ll have even less mercy. But Sugimoto obviously has no love for this part of himself. He tells Asirpa that Suzukawa was not a good man, and that wickedness dulls his sense of pain. But Sugimoto was running around and fighting with two bullets in his chest. By his logic, his evil must be great indeed. But there are plenty of people with less than robust moral fibre, it’s just that Sugimoto is the only one who lets it bother him. And perhaps that is his tragedy; in a world where everybody seems to be dead set in their cause or their ideals — from the confident spirituality of the Ainu to the steely-eyed madness of Tsurumi — Sugimoto has nothing except for his will to live. And perhaps that’s why he is so devoted to Asirpa. For man with little else, and perhaps she can be his salvation.
Whether, in the end, Sugimoto is saved will be the proof of what kind of story Golden Kamuy will ultimately be.